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To hang or not

As we predicted in an earlier editorial, the Privy Council yesterday struck down the mandatory death sentence imposed on convicted murderers in the Eastern Caribbean and Belize.

It is now left to be seen what impact such a decision will have on capital punishment in Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean states. But it seems to us inevitable that the human rights attorneys in our midst will, sooner or later, seek and quite likely obtain a similar ruling from the Law Lords on behalf of their convicted clients.

The irony of this decision is that, on the same day it was delivered, a young mother of Diego Martin and her infant son were savagely hacked to death in an act of murder so deliberate and ruthless that it cries out in the minds of many people for the death penalty. The slaughter of 24-year-old Grace Cadette and her one-year-old son Labari brings to 35 the number of persons murdered in TT for the year, a rate of homicide that intensifies public concern over violent crime in our country.

The decision of the Privy Council again raises the question of their attitude to the death penalty. The Law Lords have made no secret of their aversion for capital punishment which was abolished in Britain several years ago. It was a foregone conclusion then that they would uphold the ruling of the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal that the mandatory imposition of the death penalty is unconstitutional as it amounts to "inhuman and degrading punishment."

Whether or not the population of Trinidad and Tobago supports that view seems to us the central issue. As far as could be determined, it would seem that a majority of our citizenry would prefer to have the death penalty retained, a consensus that was expressed in representations made to the Prescott Committee some years ago, in public consultations held by former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and in several talk-in programmes on the electronic media.

In fact, just a month ago, representatives of the Business Round Table Forum to the Ministry of National Security called for the immediate resumption of hanging as part of the current war against violent crime in the country.

Our view is that every independent national society must decide for itself the measures it deems necessary for the protection of its citizens and the maintenance of law and order.

Without pointing any fingers, we must face the fact that violent crime is more prevalent in some countries than in others. The question of keeping, abolishing or amending the death penalty then is one for our people to decide and not one through which the Law Lords would impose their abolitionist views on us.

Yesterday's decision of the Privy Council and the likelihood that such a ruling will inevitably be applied to TT make the issue of the death penalty a burning one, particularly in light of the general concern over the crime problem. It may be important then for the government to seek to determine afresh the feeling of the populace.

The action of the Privy Council now forces us to have to make up our minds whether or not we will keep the death penalty or have it for only certain degrees of murder. If we decide to abolish it, this would require a change in the law, perhaps we should have a referendum on the issue.

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Privy Council strikes down death sentence
To hang or not
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